- A debate on constitutional reforms was meaningless with a few more months for elections
By Ajith Siriwardana and Yohan Perera
While claiming that participating in constitutional reforms under this government was not a feasible option, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa said yesterday they would submit a set of proposals for constitutional reforms at the forthcoming presidential elections.
Speaking at the adjournment debate on introducing a new Constitution, he said this country could not move forward without clearing up the confusion created by the 19th Amendment.
“Once a new government takes office, we hope to obtain the support of all political parties represented in Parliament for the new Constitution. Those who genuinely wish to see constitutional reform taking place in this country can join hands with us at that stage. We will not deceive the people by saying that we will amend the Constitution only to the extent that a referendum is not necessary. We will definitely hold a referendum to get the new Constitution endorsed by the people,” Mr. Rajapaksa said.
He said there were only a few more months left for the next presidential election and asked the purpose of holding a debate on constitutional reform at the tail end of the tenure of the government.
“An initiative to amend the constitution should be taken when a government has been newly elected to office, not as the final task before leaving office. This government was elected on the pledge that they would amend the constitution within their first 100 days in office. At that time, the only reform proposals they spoke of was the abolition of the executive presidency and changing the system of elections. My 2015 presidential election manifesto stated very clearly that if I was re-elected to office, we would amend the constitution and also hold a referendum to have those amendments directly endorsed by the people. But the yahapalana manifesto said that they would amend the constitution only to the extent that a referendum was not necessary. What was the problem in holding a referendum? A referendum is a case of going before the people. It is always better to have important constitutional amendments endorsed by the people at a referendum,” he said.
Mr. Rajapaksa said though their MPs had serious misgivings about the 19th Amendment, they voted for it on the promise that the 20th Amendment would be introduced in Parliament expeditiously. “This government has cheated the opposition as well,” he said.
He said they were resolutely opposed to the draft constitution that was presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister.